3 killed when helicopters crash mid-air while fighting fire in Southern California

File image of flames and heavy smoke approach of a forest fire. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Three people were killed when two firefighting helicopters collided in Southern California on Sunday while fighting a blaze in Riverside County.

One of the helicopters landed safely. "Unfortunately, the second helicopter crashed and tragically all three members perished, which included one Cal Fire Division chief, one Cal Fire captain and one contract client pilot," Cal Fire Southern Region Chief David Fulcher said during a news conference early Monday.

Fulcher did not identify the victims.

Cal Fire and Riverside County Fire Department resources had been dispatched to a structure fire near the intersection of Broadway Street and South Ronda Avenue in the community of Cabazon, Fulcher said. That blaze spread into the surrounding vegetation and a full wildland fire dispatch was initiated, which included fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.

While battling the blaze, the two helicopters collided. The crash caused an additional 4-acre (1.6-hectare) fire, which was extinguished.

"Although this was a tragic event, we are also thankful today that it wasn’t worse," Fulcher said. "The individuals in the first helicopter were able to land safely without incident and no one else was hurt."

The helicopter pilot was performing work under contract with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, fire captain and spokesman Richard Cordova said Sunday evening.

The crash is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board.